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HomeImportant TopicsBuilding HeightGateway Density and Feasibility Study - Introduction

Gateway Density and Feasibility Study – Introduction

Gateway Density and Feasibility Study
Code Site Tests

Presented by Ryan Call of Urban Field Studio to the Arcata Planning Commission
July 11, 2023

This is the introduction. The full article can be viewed here.

This is a lengthy article. It is arranged by the table of contents so you can read or watch that section of the article that is of interest to you. There is a full transcription of Ryan Call’s presentation and a transcription of the Commissioners’ questions and Ryan’s responses, along with an audio recording so you can listen and read. The original video recording is also here. Also here are the comments from the public, initial comments about the presentation by myself (Fred Weis), and my written comments to the Planning Commission after first seeing the Urban Field Studio Report.

This study is important in many ways. It represents an analysis of whether the plans for the Gateway Area can achieve the density and feasibility that are desired. And, in small asides in this presentation, whether it can achieve the degree of affordability that we’re looking for.

I find the study and presentation to be both sobering and disappointing. Disappointing in that the authors are clearly urban-oriented and do not seem to grasp our unique situation here in Arcata. Disappointing in that it does not appear that they did their “homework” in preparing this study, nor does the study show an understanding of some of the overall goals of the Gateway Area Plan.

As an example, the presenter regularly refers to the distance from the Downtown as being a factor for whether ground-floor retail, restaurants, and so on are desirable and viable for the buildings in the Gateway Area. We are seeking to create a vibrant, active, community-oriented world right there — in the Gateway Area. Walking into town is great, and there will also be all kinds of action and activity right there in Gateway. The presenter considers the Tomas Building site as being “just a little too far from your city core” to support ground-level retail. As we know, this site is across the street from the successful restaurant “The Pub” and a variety of retail and commercial operations in the Creamery Building. We are creating an adjunct community to downtown. The Gateway Area will be a destination in itself.

And the presentation is sobering in that many specifics of what’s promoted in the Gateway Area Plan not likely to be economically feasible. Construction over four stories or possibly five stories becomes expensive — more costly than the income (i.e. rents) will support. The banks/financial institutions who are funding the projects are likely going to want to see more parking, to protect their interests in lending on a project that needs to be financially viable. The presentation keeps talking about multi-story parking structures — and not only can this area not support the cost ($50,000 per space) of that kind of parking, we also don’t even want that much parking, nor want the cost attached to a rental price.

Further, there’s a promotion of narrow setbacks (the distance from the curb to the front of the building) to allow for more buildable land for the developer — to produce more housing, to potentially lower the cost (rents) of the housing. And to remove or substantially lessen the requirement for upper-floor step-backs — the “step-back” from the front of the building on upper stories that gives more sky view and possibly more sunlight to the people on the street…and helps reduce the “canyon-like” feel of a block-long building. The presenter said:

“Looking at some of your setbacks throughout your city, and how the the narrow sidewalks and the narrow setbacks actually bring people together in a way that you can’t really avoid each other, which I think is actually a really good thing for a community.”

I believe that it is incorrect to “scapegoat” the setbacks and step-backs as impeding development. There are many, many other factors. Whether or not setbacks and step-backs negatively impact the economics of the development — and lead to higher rents being necessary — is to some extent up to the skill of the architect and the interests of the developer. I don’t think we can take it as a given that a narrow sidewalk and no step-backs will “make or break” the feasibility of a project, as the presenter implies.  Once again, see the Julian Berg design for the car wash site, here. It has both setbacks from the street and step-backs above the 3rd story.

The proposals also do not include the privately owned publicly-accessible “parklet” spaces that will be so important in the Gateway area.

And so, disappointing and sobering.

Please read or watch this material, so that we can go onward and create a better plan for Arcata.

Thank you.

The full article on the Urban Field Studio Gateway Code Test can be viewed here.